Remember, Democrats are Awful Too

Photo by Don Relyea | CC BY 2.0

Like it or not, in the 2018 midterms, the only way to defeat Republicans – and defy Donald Trump (or Mike Pence) — will be to vote for Democrats.

I don’t like it, and I don’t think anybody else should either.  The Democratic Party is part of the problem.  It would have to change beyond recognition to become even a small part of the solution.

But, at least in the short run, voting for a Democrat is the only way to ward off a pernicious, clear, present, and extremely grave danger.

The problem is not that there aren’t many Americans willing and eager to change the world radically for the better; there are plenty.  It is that our debilitating duopoly party system holds sway over us.  The idea that whatever is not Republican must be Democratic might as well be imprinted in our minds.

Those two parties have worked hard over many years to make this the case, and they are at it still.  Corporate media do yeoman service in their behalf.

This is why a large segment of the anti-Trump “resistance,” perhaps the most anodyne political force ever to use that word, is, for all intents and purposes, a Democratic Party project, and why much of the rest either is or is about to be coopted into the Democratic fold.

Good or bad (or very bad), this is inevitable.  Democratic victories in 2018 are not quite as inevitable because Democrats have a knack for losing with winning hands.  But this time around, even more than in 2016, they would have to outdo themselves not to take control of both the Senate and the House.

Insofar as Democratic victories weaken the Republican Party, diminishing its hold over national and state institutions, then bring them on.  A pox on them, though, insofar as they help build the Democratic Party in anything like its present form.

On a scale of one to ten, where one is as bad as it has ever been in American politics since the “segregation forever” days and ten is as good as it ever got, Republicans today are somewhere in the minus three to five range.  Trump himself is incommensurable because he is too much all over the place; but all the places he goes are bad.

By that measure, Democrats get a two or three.  That would be Democrats of the Clinton, Schumer, Pelosi type.  Democrats of the Sanders, Warren variety are better than that, at least on domestic matters, and the jury is out on the new people who are reportedly preparing to run for office as Democrats in 2018.  Some of them may even have a radical bone or two in their bodies; or one can at least hope.

The worst thing about Democrats is their eagerness to prepare the way in public opinion for stumbling into World War III.  To be sure, their warmongering is only the most glaring reason to find them appalling.  Their newly found love for the pillars of the national security state – especially the FBI and CIA – is another.  And, of course, there are all the many ways that they and the GOP are of one mind in supporting a neoliberal world order with America calling the shots.

In short, they are bad news – in ways that drag down everyone in their fold.

But our duopoly party system has colonized American political culture so thoroughly that it has become almost unthinkable for opponents of Republicans not to be supporters of Democrats.  And even when they are not – when, for example, they vote for the Greens – the thought that a vote for anybody but a Democrat is a vote for a Republican is inevitably on the mind; pathetically, in many circumstances, this is at least arguably the case.

Because the stakes are so high in 2018, and the alternatives so weak, few and far between, the duopoly’s hold over oppositional politics this time around is likely to be more than usually difficult to exorcise.  There is no choice but to deal with it and, if need be, to acquiesce.

It should go without saying that the case against lesser evil voting is sound, and that it makes excellent sense, logically and (in most imaginable circumstances) politically, to oppose Republicans without supporting Democrats.  Lesser evil voting elects evils; worse still, it promotes a race to the bottom.

But with an adolescent boy in an old man’s body controlling the nuclear arsenal and locked into a sick co-dependent relationship with a Republic Party comprised of loathsome troglodytes dead set on undoing most of the advances of the past hundred years, otherwise sound positions must sometimes be overridden.  To fight back against Trump and all things Trumpian, one must do what one must do; the urgency could hardly be greater.

But then it is important to keep a clear head – by not disregarding the dangers inherent in using the only means available, in the short term, for holding the Trumpian menace at bay.


Despite all the brouhaha that corporate media present as gospel truth, it is still far from clear precisely what, if anything, “Russiagate” amounts to; only the hypocrisy inherent in the (always vague) charges is certain.

At least since the end of Word War II, the United States has been the most flagrant meddler in the affairs of other countries of all time.

When the Soviet Union was intact and strong, there wasn’t much American intelligence services could accomplish there, though not for lack of trying.  Then Soviet “satellites,” in Eastern Europe bore the brunt – along with Cuba, of course, and everywhere else there was a whiff of Soviet influence.

China and countries in Asia and Africa that were, even in minor ways, in its ambit received similar attention.  But, back in the day, American planners saw the Soviet Union as the greater threat.  That was therefore where America meddled more.

When the Soviet Union imploded and split apart, former Soviet Republics became Target Number One – largely because American planners made incorporating them into the empire a top priority.

The Russian federation itself was, at first, less of a priority because it didn’t have to be.  With its economy in tatters thanks to the brutal way that its regression to capitalism was engineered (partly with American help), and with a government headed by a drunkard, Boris Yeltsin, and run by and for oligarchs and kleptocrats, there wasn’t much for the CIA to do.

The Clintons loved it and so did the neocons.  They would like nothing more than to make America great again by knocking Russia back down to where it was in the Bill Clinton days.

But, of course, American meddling is and never has been confined just to parts of the world on the other side of “the Iron Curtain” and in what used to be called the Third World.   The United States is a serial meddler – in every country on earth that might not otherwise do what the empire’s stewards want.

And yet the political class and its media flunkies are shocked, shocked that Russia would be so uppity as to meddle too – in American elections, no less.  Again, the meddling they are supposed to have done is of an unspecified nature and without any apparent consequence. But so what!  This cannot stand!

Words fail to describe the extent of the hypocrisy, the sheer chutzpah of it all.

To be fair, though, culpability on this account is not confined to the Democratic Party.    Republicans are as bad or worse; or rather they were before Democrats found Russiagate a useful cudgel to use against Trump and therefore against them.

Self-righteous hypocrisy about the moral and political rectitude of “the city on the hill” is a bipartisan affliction — more American than apple pie.


However, zeal in reviving Cold War animosities – and therefore in making our world more dangerous than it need be – is not.  As a Cold War party, Democrats are worse.  Or, rather, they have been ever since the summer of 2016, when the Clinton campaign decided that it would be a good idea to go neocon.  Since then, the idea has taken on a life of its own, and spilled out into wider circles at home and abroad.

The idea at first was not exactly to lay the groundwork for not blaming themselves should Clinton lose to Trump; no one, including Trump and the people around him, thought that was more than a theoretical possibility.

But Team Hillary was concerned that only second wave feminists and Democratic Party hacks were enthusiastic about the prospect of a Hillary (or Hillary and Bill) Restoration.

The contrast with the enthusiasm Bernie Sanders had stirred up was palpable.  This, along with the fact that, even without leaked emails, everybody who cared knew that the game had been rigged against him, made Clinton and her people worry that Sanders enthusiasts and other potential Democratic voters would stay home on Election Day.

The more preposterous the alternative was, the greater the probability of that.  Nobody, not even the Republicans Trump defeated to become that party’s nominee, was more preposterous than the Donald.

Low enthusiasm for Clinton wouldn’t put Trump in the White House – that was unthinkable – but a little insurance couldn’t hurt.

And so they did, as best they could, what Democrats did back in the Harry Truman days and for many years thereafter.  They could hardly redbait the Russians outright; the Russian government, under Vladimir Putin, is no redder than they, which is about as un-red as can be (in the old, not the corporate media, sense.)

It turns out, though, that redbaiters no longer need reds to redbait; the original Cold Warriors had done their job well so well that, even now that anti-Communism is an historical anachronism, its spirit survives, as much a tenet of the American civil religion as ever.

This, like so much else, is part of the patrimony of both mainstream political parties.  But with the GOP under Trump’s thumb, and with Trump pushing a Russia-friendly line, it fell to the Democrats to get out in front.

Someday, perhaps quite soon, Trump’s reasons for being less bellicose than Clinton will become clearer.  Most likely, financial shenanigans of a criminal kind are involved.   For now, though, we can only be grateful that the positions he campaigned on and that his administration has so far taken are less extreme.

When Democrats took it upon themselves to play an up-dated version of the anti-Communist card, they caught a break.  Russia, under Putin, was acting in ways that they and their propagandist could easily, if not quite fairly, demonize.

Ever since the Soviet Union expired and Chinese Communism took off down “the capitalist road,” history has been repeating itself – not as tragedy or farce, as Marx (following Hegel) said great historical events often do, but as a bizarre combination of the two.

After the Bolshevik Revolution and during the course of the civil war that ensued, capitalist powers, including the United States, constructed a military equivalent of a quarantine barrier, the infamous cordon sanitaire, around revolutionary Russia.  Nearly a century later, the United States and its allies set about doing it again.

Ronald Regan promised Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not move an inch further east.  It did, of course – relentlessly.   By the time Hillary Clinton was about to move back into the White House, NATO had moved about as far to the east as it could.

Ukraine, however, was not yet in the US-EU fold  – to the dismay of the liberal imperialists whom Clinton had empowered when she was Barack Obama’s Secretary of State, and whom Obama continued to support during his second term.

Many Ukrainians, especially in the mainly Ukrainian (not Russian) speaking western parts of the country, didn’t much like it either.  Some of them were comparatively benign nationalists; many were fascists or quasi-fascists.

Their attempts at staging yet one more “color revolution,” aided and abetted by Western, especially American, meddling, set off a militant resistance movement in the eastern, Russian speaking parts of the country; in the Crimea, above all.  This finally forced Russia’s hand, giving Cold War revivalists in both parties an opportunity to let loose.

It was Democrats who made the most of the opportunity; with Trump in the White House, they had the most to gain.  Thus they and their media flunkies set about stirring up old animosities that had never quite faded away even during the Bill Clinton salad days in the nineties when they no longer served any purpose.


Civics lessons in American secondary schools have gone the way of the dinosaurs, but, back in the day, when they were commonplace, they conveyed a certain view of what democratic governance is supposed to be like.  What was taught in them aligned well with the expectations of America’s founders — and, more generally, with the thinking of the Enlightened political philosophers from whom those founders drew inspiration.

The general idea was that laws are, or ought to be, made and executed by public servants dedicated to doing what is best for the whole community, not just for themselves or for particular sub-communities, partial associations, or interest groups.  Sophisticated versions of this line of thought survive to this day in the work of leading twentieth and twenty-first century political philosophers.

The real world of liberal democracy, ours especially, deviates profoundly from the civics lesson ideal.  Electoral campaigns are not about figuring out what is best for the whole community; they are about selling candidates to voters in the mindless way that advertisers sell bars of soap.

This takes money, lots of it.  The love of which is said to be the root of all evil.  Perhaps it is.  It is certainly the root of all Republican and (big-D) Democratic efforts to undermine (small-d) democracy.

Everybody knows this; indeed, it has always been this way to some extent.  Neither Democrats nor Republicans object.

Therefore both parties court donors assiduously.  Indeed, it is the main thing they do.

This is one reason why our political life is so morally and intellectually degraded.  It is also a reason why economic inequalities spill over from the economic sphere into the real world of purportedly democratic institutions.

Even with formal equality of citizenship, gross inequalities of political influence make a mockery of the civics lesson story; and with increasing inequality, the deviation from the ideal is rapidly becoming even more extreme and salient.

Our profoundly irrational capitalist economic system in its current phase is largely to blame for this, along with the virulent “rent seeking” that economic and political inequalities encourage.  Rent-seekers derive income not by adding to real productive capacities, but by using political influence to manipulate the social and economic environments in which economic activities occur.

And so we have entered into a period of grave economic and political turbulence.  It is impossible to say how it will end.

The duopoly parties nevertheless toddle on unbothered.   They could care less, more generally, about deviations from (small-d) democratic ideals – except insofar as they advantage or disadvantage one or the other party.

Voter suppression disadvantages Democrats.  Therefore, they oppose it — in the milquetoast ways for which they are famous.  They could oppose it more, but taking their own side is not in their nature.

It hardly bothers either party that the system is run by and for the hyper-rich, and both parties like – indeed, thrive on — a media system that dumbs voters down and marginalizes political views that fall outside the ambit of one or the other duopoly party.

But foreign meddling, Democrats insist, is beyond the pale.  Democrats cannot abide foreigners, Russians no less, involving themselves in American elections.

Even if the Russians are guilty as charged and Vladimir Putin is as evil as Rachel Maddow thinks, the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson and practically every other American capitalist who wants something from the American government harms American “democracy” more.

Those “malefactors of great wealth,” as Teddy Roosevelt called their counterparts a century ago, generally get their way.  The contrast with the alleged Russian meddlers is extreme; they don’t seem to have accomplished much of anything all.

Nevertheless, Democrats insist: the very idea of Russian meddling offends all we hold sacred.  Therefore, praise the lord and pass the ammunition.

However, for them, as for their rivals in the other duopoly party, the meddling, direct or indirect, of countries that benefit the donor class is seldom even a problem.  Their meddling, when on the up and up, which it often may be, is called “lobbying.” But even when it is not, prudent Democrats and Republicans look the other way.

Some of the most noxious regimes in the world are past masters at bending the American government to its will, regardless of the wishes of the American people; Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies are among the most extreme examples.

And then there is Israel, which no one in either duopoly party ever dares fault.  Its meddling in American political affairs puts even American meddling in the affairs of other countries to shame.

Democrats and Republicans are fine with that.  No matter that the government of Israel effectively owns Congress, or even that, by both conviction and marriage, it has the Trump family is in its thrall.

“A foolish consistency,” Emerson wrote, “is the hobgoblin of little minds.”  Foolish inconsistencies are generally more insidious and damaging.   The less odious duopoly party thrives on them, just as it has thrived lately on reviving the Cold War.  Shame on it!

But unless circumstances change fundamentally in unforeseeable and extremely unlikely ways between now and November, there will be compelling reasons to vote for Democrats – or rather to vote against Republicans by voting for Democrats — in the coming midterm elections.

Even so, if anything of more lasting value than relief from some of the direst consequences of Trump’s election is to come from voting for Democrats in November, the time to start organizing against the party of the Clintons, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and others like them will not be after the election is over, when the old regime is riding high as it surely will be if there is a Democratic “wave.”  The time for that is now.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).